Archives For Group dynamics

As leaders, we always strive for cohesion in a group. Whether you are putting a team together or trying to form a small group, the rule of thumb is to maximize cohesion. The more cohesive a group, the more effective it can work on tasks or deliver the required outcome.

Generally speaking, the five factors in “group dynamics” that influence cohesion, is:

  • Stability– The longer a group is together with the same members, the more cohesive the group will be.
  • Similarity– The more similar the group members are in terms of age, race, sex, education level etc, the more cohesive the group will be.
  • Size– Cohesion develops quicker in small groups than in large group.
  • Support– If individual team members have mentors or supporting leaders who provide input and encouragement to support one another, the team as a whole will be more cohesive.
  • Satisfaction– The more satisfied team members are with each others performance, output or work ethics, the more cohesive the team will be.

So, the more cohesive a group, the better . . . or is it? There comes a time when cohesion can actually lead to something social psychologists call “groupthink“. Groupthink is when a group value harmony above critical thinking. Consensus becomes more important than allowing alternative viewpoints. Sure, the group will say that they tolerate differences, but unknowingly they follow the leader(s) unquestioningly. The unwritten group dynamic is to discourage disagreement. Controversial issues are avoided and individuals will feel they do not have the freedom to ask questions. They will even start to act against their better judgement and loose their uniqueness,

This is actually scary for me, because as a church leader I often emphasize the importance of coherence. Unity, is after all a Biblical command.

The problem with groupthink is that there is a loss of creativity. And in a world where we desperately need creativity to solve the problems face, the loss of critical thinking is the last thing we can afford.

A further problem of groupthink is that the group does not realize the phenomenon’s presence, until it is too late. The group will typically have an inflated sense of their own abilities, knowledge, behavior or products. This is called the “illusion of invulnerability“.

Not only does groupthink lead the “in-group” to underrate the “out-group“, but it can even cause the “in-group” to demonize the “out-group“, resulting in the acceptance of actions against people that would otherwise be frowned upon.

I have seen groupthink at play in the Church arena on numerous occasions. In fact, I think it is bigger threat than the lack of cohesion. Groupthink – “the way things are done around here” – is what holds many a congregation back from meaningful change.

So, without diminishing the value of group cohesion, let us be aware of the danger of groupthink. I’d say that as leaders, we ought to constantly ask ourselves what group dynamic is present in our context.

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Ask yourself if your group is currently more prone to cohesion or to groupthink. Whatever your answer might be, work towards the other…

Anyone who has ever worked in a team, will testify to the fact that although team members may stay the same, team dynamics will always change.

Bruce Tuckman actually identified this phenomenon already back in 1965, and it has since become known as “Tuckman’s 5 phase group development model“. According to Tuckman the 5 phases that are inevitable for a team to go through, are:

  • Forming: Team members get acquainted with each other.
  • Storming: Role definition and expectations are worked out
  • Norming: Clear expectations, consensus and responsibility takes form.
  • Performing: Focus and goal achievement
  • Adjourning/Reforming: Task completion.

If one would portray it visually, it would look something like this:

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So, what concerns me is the part that comes after “Reforming“. The performance curve can either drop or raise at this point. And this is why the reforming phase is such an important phase.

I find myself in precisely in that phase right now. I joined a congregation – and hence new team – in 2014. Once the “forming” phase and role definition was done, the “norming” and “performing” started. We have enjoyed several successes in a relatively short period of time.

But our one colleague – and as luck would have it, our team leader – retires this year. This means the role definition of the entire team changes once again. What’s more, is that we relied heavily on his wisdom. We will surely feel his absence.

But now the fate of the curve, rests squarely on our shoulders. The science of group dynamics says that it is impossible to stay unchanged on the plateau. The curve will either drop or raise.

This is a sober, terrifying and humbling awareness. As colleagues we need to reform and “re-invent” our team in order to raise the curve. That’s a tall order. I trust that the Lord will guide us in our endeavors. I am unashamedly and utterly dependent upon Him. Your prayers will be much appreciated.

The Ringelmann effect

January 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

The findings of this experiment is absolutely jaw-dropping interesting. I believe every leader needs to take note of this phenomenon.